Louis Nicholls

Thoughts on startups, web dev and other stuff

Sales > Marketing

I spend quite a bit of time on indiehackers.com, helping newer founders. By far the most common question I see is “I’ve built product X, how can I market it and get customers?”

Well hang on. If you’re in that situation then you’ve already made a big mistake.

There’s only one way to make sure you’re building something people will pay for. And that’s to talk to customers and make sales before (and while) building!

If you haven’t done that, then chances are your product isn’t something people will derive value from and want to pay for.

Inspired by Courtland Allen‘s recent post on the subject (below), here are a few reasons you should try sales not marketing for your project, and some (incorrect) excuses you’ll probably try and use to justify ignoring this advice and do marketing not sales anyway…




First off, let’s think about what you’re trying to achieve with sales/marketing as an early stage founder.

  • You want to make money soon, so you can buy food and internet access
  • You want to understand the problem your product solves for your customers, so you know how to make it more valuable (so more people are willing to buy and pay more)
  • You want to understand the objections customers have to buying your product, and the arguments you need to use to overcome those objections

Ok, so now we know what you need to achieve, let’s take a look at whether marketing or sales will help you get there faster.

Here are five advantages sales has over marketing in trying to achieve your goals:

1. Sales helps you learn how to market your product.

It’s worth really understanding the key difference between sales and marketing from a founder’s perspective.

It comes down to the direction in which information should flow.

As an early stage founder, you have a lot of assumptions about your product and desperately need information from your target customers. To put it simply, you don’t yet know what arguments will make a prospective customer buy your product.

So your main goal is to understand the value of your product to the customer and what objections they may have to buying the product.

With sales, it’s easy to find this information out quickly. Because you can just ask.

In a good sales call/meeting, the customer will be talking >70% of the time. The net flow of information is clearly from the customer to the founder.

On the other hand, with marketing the net flow of information is from the founder to the customer.

Basically you have the opportunity to present the customer with lots of information you think they’ll like, and the only information you get back is a binary reply – “did that marketing information make them buy the product, yes or no.”

With marketing, you don’t even know whether they didn’t buy because you said the wrong thing, forgot to say something, or maybe just used the wrong words to say it.

If you start your project off by doing sales, you’ll quickly learn how to handle your customers’ objections and craft your pitch. Soon, you can turn that into effective marketing and scale.


2. Sales is faster

Building on the point above, you’ll get the information you need to understand your customer objections and value proposition much faster by using sales, rather than marketing.

Also, marketing requires a time investment up front in content. That could be a landing page, Facebook ads, blog posts, whatever. You then have to spend time putting that in front of your target audience and adapting the message until they start converting.

Bearing in mind you aren’t even sure if there’s a market for your product yet, this seems like a waste of time.

Instead, you could just send a few cold emails or pick up the phone.

All you need to do sales is a genuine interest in solving your customer’s problem and the ability to listen and ask questions. No big investment necessary.


3. Sales is more effective

Again, there are two main things holding you back as a new founder:

  1. You don’t yet understand your customer’s objections and how to handle them
  2. You’ve only just started and have no proof that you can deliver what you promise

When you’re marketing, you can’t know for sure whether you’re losing out on new customers because of problem 1, or problem 2.

If you do sales though, you can let the customer do the selling for you (by asking questions and using their own arguments).

Also, by interacting with the customer personally, you build trust and can assuage any doubts the customer has about your ability to deliver.


4. Sales improves your product and business model

How sales improves your product is pretty obvious.

Imagine there’s something about your product which needs to be improved/changed in order to make a sale. This scenario is pretty common.

Now if you only do marketing and your product is a bad fit, prospective customers will just not buy. That’s all the feedback you get.

If you’re doing direct sales, however, you can know exactly what functionality your customer needs in order to commit as a paying customer, because you ask them and they tell you!

As far as the business model goes, there are three main ways sales helps you with a more profitable business model:

  1. Building a better product thanks to sales will indirectly lead to you being able to capture more value from the customer.
  2. By doing direct sales you can more accurately assess whether you’re charging the right amount or leaving money on the table.
  3. People click through to landing pages all the time. Even if the value isn’t particularly high to them. On the other hand, people normally only accept a sales call/meeting if the problem you are solving is a priority for them. That means you’re more likely to move towards a product that you can charge a lot of money for if you do sales.

5. Sales is easy!

Most new founders aren’t good marketers. Marketing takes time to master and expertise to do successfully.

I’m not claiming that sales doesn’t take time to become an expert in as well, but the barrier to entry and getting successful results is much, much lower.

This is especially true for early stage founders.

If you’re enthusiastic, show a genuine interest in helping the customer and remember you’re there to ask questions and learn, not preach, then you can get good results straight away.


But wait – I should do marketing instead because…

… I don’t like doing sales.

I get it. Sales can be scary. No one likes to be rejected. Especially not to their face. It takes guts to call/email a stranger and can be uncomfortable.

But it’s still the best way to go. So suck it up.


… sales won’t scale!

True. Probably.

But you don’t need to scale right now. You’re trying to build a product so good that a few people love it, not one that a lot of people kind of like.

As Paul Graham says, “it’s better to build a product that a few people love, than a lot of people like.”


… cold email/calling is spammy

Sure – and everyone loves Facebook/Youtube adverts.

Seriously though, cold outreach shouldn’t be spammy!

After all, you’re researching the people you reach out to make sure they need your product, right?

You’re actively trying to help these people have a happier/better/richer life by solving an important problem for them…

You should feel like it’s your duty to reach out to them.

That sounds a bit cheesy, but I’m deadly serious.

If the problem you’re solving isn’t worth a short phone call/email to your customer, then it isn’t an important problem.


… I won’t be good at sales

No problem. You don’t need to be good at sales to get 10-20 sales under your belt.

Later, you can move on to other acquisition channels like marketing.

But in the early days, all you need to do is:

  • Spend ten minutes or so reading about the basics (eg on the Close.io blog)
  • Be a decent human being
  • Listen and ask questions (be genuinely interested in the problem)
  • Actually ask them to buy!

Oh – and you’ll actually have to put some effort in. Funnily enough, this seems to be the biggest sticking point for most founders I meet.


So what are you waiting for? Go and do some direct sales now!

If you’re interested in learning more about how to grow a successful business, why not join 2’500+ founders who receive my weekly newsletter. Each week there’s an article which will help you grow by 1% in <5min.

Did I miss something or have a question? Shoot me an email or leave a comment here.

Thanks!

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